Luwak is the Indonesian
name for the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus),
one of several species of small mammals native to Africa and south
east Asia. Musang is another generic Malay name for any cat or fox
like animal and doesn't specifically refer to the luwak.
Civets have a long association with humans and the African civet
was historically used as a major source of musk, the base fixative
of many well known perfumes and one of the most expensive animal
Luwaks are found throughout tropical south east Asia including Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam where they
inhabit tropical rain forest and, unavoidably, fruit and coffee
plantations. They are strongly arboreal preferring to spend most
of their time in trees, and omnivorous meaning they will eat almost
anything available. In nature their diet consists of eggs, insects,
other small animals and whatever fruit is in season. When coffee
plantations flower, and then consequently produce fruit, the bright
red cherries form a major part of their diet resulting in deposits
of kopi luwak in the plantations and surrounding jungle.
For the past five to six years, since kopi luwak has become more
prominent in the media, there has been a huge increase in the availability
of what is supposedly kopi luwak. Obviously it is not physically
possible to obtain kopi luwak in the quantities demanded so it is
becoming increasingly common for coffee farmers to cage and 'farm'
luwaks which raises two major issues:
Ethically, keeping luwaks in small cages and forcing them to survive
on a diet of coffee cherries is wrong and ultimately not sustainable.
Luwaks require a varied diet, as do most animals, and their health
will eventually deteriorate under such conditions.
A major reason for the quality of kopi luwak is that the
luwak doesn't eat all the coffee cherries available, it selects
some, presumably the ripest (tastiest?) to consume while leaving
the vast majority uneaten on the plant. By feeding the luwak coffee
cherries this selection process is bypassed resulting in kopi luwak
of inferior quality.